Once, he told her that he thought she tended to "displace her emotions."
She didn't mind it when he would use this kind
of jargon, though she kidded him about it. He had been a psychology
major in college, had become an insurance salesman. She didn't think
he could help himself. It was something she'd loved about him, that
mix of irony and kindly officiousness.
"Displaced emotion," she'd said, rolling her eyes. "Oh, please.
What does that mean, exactly?"
He smiled a little, as if he knew more than he was willing to
say. They were washing dishes, and he handed her a plate to dry.
"It means," he said, "that you're not worried about what you think
you're worried about."
is something she worries about, nowadays. What should she be worried
about? What are the things she tries not to think about?
Well, there's this: Sometimes, she sleeps with Safety Man. The
thought of someone knowing this actually makes her blush, so she
tries not to let it cross her mind. It's no one's business--probably
it's perfectly natural, perfectly normal to want to fill that
empty spot in their bed with a body, even an artificial one.
But what about that one night, when she'd stayed up late, drinking?
In bed, she'd boozily cuddled against Safety Man, legless though
he was. She'd even kissed him.
No, she doesn't think about that. She doesn't think about the
way, in crowds, she sees Allen's face, or her mother, or her daughters,
and her heart will crackle like a product being freeze-dried.
She doesn't think about the janitor who resembles Safety Man,
disappearing around the corner of a hallway as she walks from
her cubicle to the restroom to pat water on her face. She doesn't
think about her mother, clutching her at Allen's funeral. "You
know, honey," her mother said, "you're never going to find another
man who loves you as much as Allen did." Her mother sighed. "It's
a real tragedy," she said, and put a hand to her throat, as if
to constrict a sob.
Sometimes, such thoughts seem unbearable.
she is functional.
She maneuvers through her day, despite the cannibal letter writers,
despite teeth in ashtrays, despite Safety Man janitors steering
their wheeled mop-buckets past her workstation. When she begins
to feel a wave of grief or terror washing over her, she likes
to visualize a line of cheerleaders in her mind's eye. They jump
and do splits and wave their pom-poms: "Push it back! Push it
back! Push it wa-a-ay back!" they chant, and it seems to work.
She thinks of how much Allen would like these mental cheerleaders.
How he would laugh.
daughters, Megan and Molly, seem to be coping fairly well. Sandi
knows that she doesn't think about them as much as she should,
but she is there for them. She makes nice desserts, she helps
them with their homework. She sits in the TV room with them for
a while, trying to watch what they are watching.
"What is this?" she asks, and Megan shrugs, her eyes blank, reflecting
"I don't know," Megan says. "It's something like, 'I Eat Your
Flesh,' or something like that. It's not scary. They don't show
anything," she says with disappointment, and Sandi nods.
Molly says. "Put your arm around me." And Sandi does. Molly
leans against her as, on screen, a woman opens a basement door.
The woman peers down the dark stairs, and the lightbulb fizzles
and goes out as the music begins to build.
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